As far as the self adhesive label industry is concerned, the issues of the environment and packaging waste have been around since the late 1980s when European and US waste legislation was first being proposed. Indeed, the State of California even proposed banning self adhesive labels at one stage.

Not unnaturally, the legislative proposals being generated in the EC and elsewhere during the period from about 1987 onwards began to have a significant impact on the future of the self adhesive industry – even whether it had a future at all.

Fortunately, sense began to return and the labelstock, papermaking and waste industries began to consider how the waste generated by the self adhesive producer and user industry could be handled, recycled or re-used.

Today, most of the technical issues in recycling release liner materials, matrix waste and self adhesive applied labels have been solved. With the right kind of separation, filtration and cleaning facilities it is possible for paper mills to recycle release liner into new grades of packaging paper.

Similarly, there are paper mills that are already able to recycle matrix waste into new coated paper grades, although it does need to be separated by adhesive type. Another approach being used by the industry is for self adhesive waste from the laminator to be partially reclaimed and the true waste to be turned into fuel pallets for, say, cement works.

Industry organisations such as FINAT have also undertaken a considerable amount of work in terms of bringing the industry together to develop meaningful solutions. Other possibilities that have been considered for self adhesive related waste products include using it in a reconstituted form for making everything from egg boxes to plant pots, seed trays to building materials and cat litter to fibre pipes. Indeed, the list can be almost endless.

No, the problem for the self adhesive industry in terms of modern waste legislation is not so much a question of can the waste be recycled, re-used or incinerated in the right formats – but more a question of logistics.

Those companies that have invested heavily in facilities for taking and recycling or converting self adhesive waste materials don’t feel they should have to pay a high price for that waste. After all, they are the ones providing the service.

The issue then becomes one of how to get the matrix, liner or label waste from where it is generated to where it can be used – and, more importantly, who pays the cost of solving this logistical problem. This is what most Packaging Waste legislation aims to determine.

For the self adhesive industry the problem is even further complicated by the fact that the waste generated is in all kinds of different places: at the labelstock manufacturers, in the label converting plant, at the pre-packer or pack labelling plant, or even at the end user operation. Much of this waste may also be in relatively small quantities.

Perhaps what is therefore needed is a fresh look at some of these logistical issues. Certainly those countries – like the UK – where there are relatively high concentrations of producer and user self adhesive waste materials within a manageable transportation area, may have the best opportunity of evolving new waste handling solutions.

Looked at logically, a self adhesive waste collection, handling, sorting, reclaiming, repulping or reconstitution facility based close to the M1 motorway around the Sheffield area for direction, encompass something like eight of the top ten pressure-sensitive
label printers in the country – and over 50 per cent of the matrix waste produced in the UK.

Many of the major label pre-packing and packing companies that use pressure-sensitive labels also fall within that region.

If all the major label converters in such a region worked together to set up the necessary waste collection and handling, reconstitution or other facilities in a central location (or worked with an existing waste handler to set up new facilities) they could certainly all solve their own matrix waste problem; they could provide a better service to their user customers by taking liner waste away; probably charge a small fee to smaller label plants that wished to use the facility and might even end up with profitable reconstituted or waste products, fuel pallets etc that could make them money.

The introduction of the new Packaging Waste legislation in the UK might be just the impetus that the industry needs to establish new or radical waste handling solutions. The next few months or years could be interesting to watch.

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